DALLAS and FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton released a legal opinion letter Tuesday that says local health authorities can’t issue blanket orders to close schools to prevent future COVID-19 cases.
“We’re very disappointed that the health authority order was sort of overruled,” said Vinny Taneja, Tarrant County Public Health Director.
Both Tarrant and Dallas County health officials had previously issued orders delaying in-person education.
Dallas County Health and Human Services’ order pushed the start of face-to-face education to September 8.
“We had 18 days of 1,000 or more new cases reported every day,” said Dr. Philip Huang, the director of DCHHS. “So it was really just to protect students, teachers, and staff in that context.”
Tarrant County health officials issued a similar order last week, delaying in-person education until September 28.
“I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, currently online schooling is the safest option,” Taneja said.
Both Taneja and Dr. Huang say their recommendations are still the same.
“This is a person-to-person illness,” said Taneja. “You put more people together, you’re going to have a problem.”
However, it seems the decision to reopen schools now rests with local school leaders.
“I think it confuses people,” said Dr. Huang. “It confuses us.”
After the Attorney General’s announcement, the Texas Education Agency updated its guidelines.
The agency will no longer fund school districts that keep classrooms closed because of a local health department mandate.
Districts can receive state funding if another exemption applies, like if they plan to phase-in the return of on-campus instruction.
Alliance-AFT, which represents thousands of Dallas ISD teachers, also responded to Paxton’s letter.
The president of the teachers union says it is sowing confusion in areas where schools and health officials are finally on the same page.
“Telling health authorities that they can’t take preventative measures to prevent a continuous spread of this virus and to prevent dangerous reopenings is counterproductive to everything that we know and have seen in these cases,” Alliance-AFT President Rena Honea said. “It’s an opinion that he has given and it’s not anything that is truly binding.”
The teachers union would like to see at least 14 days of decline in positive coronavirus cases, as well as hospitalizations, before making any decisions on future reopenings.
CBS 11’s Erin Jones contributed to this report.